I am aware of the Frequency Illusion which makes it more likely for us to notice a new word if we just heard about it recently, but I was wondering if this is true for emotions as well.

Logically, I assume it would be yes because you are more aware about your emotions and hence more likely to notice that you are experiencing the emotion. Have there been any conclusive studies done on this subject?

I don't know much about linguistics but if, say, a certain isolated tribe has not come up with a word for "happiness", would they ever feel happiness in the same way that we do, or feel it less frequently?

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    $\begingroup$ There hasn't been any research looking at this specific question, but there is good reason to believe it's true. We use prior knowledge about emotion concepts (words, but not always words), combined with current sensory input, to construct current emotional experience. So if you know the concept "fear," you can deploy it in a given situation (by deploying it, you feel the emotion fear). However, if there is no emotion concept to deploy, then you do not feel that emotion (e.g., you don't feel gluckshmerz if you don't have that concept). $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ Aren't emotions just releases of neurotransmitters after/during a particular event? A child may not know the words happy but can still smile and feel content right? Or, an american may not know the word gluckschmerz, but may still smile when someone gets hurt. That why Americans funniest home videos exist. Almost all movies are gluckschmerz (enjoying other peoples suffering). I do think it's possible to experience an emotion but, indeed, not being able to verbalize the feeling. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ @RobinKramer Re: your first question, not quite. Emotions, psychologically speaking, are (cognitive) conceptualizations of your affect in a context. Affect is your feelings of (1) pleasantness or unpleasantness and (2) activation or deactivation. You can feel affect (e.g., pleasant) without feeling an emotion (e.g., happiness). Indeed, you don't need words to feel an emotion, but you do need the concept. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @mrt I have never heard of gluckshmerz (and schadenfreude) before I read your comment and honestly, I have felt those emotions before. It's just that most of those moments were probably forgettable because I didn't have a word to categorize them under. I don't know how much language plays a role in memory but if you don't have a word for an emotion, does that make you less likely to remember it and thus in hindsight, make you biased to think you have felt it less often? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Zerseus Well, there could be a couple things going on. The first is potentially memory bias in how you experienced emotions in the past. We know that episodic recall of emotional experience is weak (see here), and instead you're likely relying on semantic memory (which includes these new emotion words) to construct past experience. The alternative is that you had those emotion concepts, but you didn't have words for them. Words are not necessary, but they are highly significant in emotion concept formation. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


The answer would be no. To go along with the comments babies feel emotions however do not know words. As they grow adults help them organize their emotions for example a baby cries with frustration and anger because they may be hungry as you get older you have learned how to deal with that experience. As it is impossible to feel any emotion without having a thought first, emotions stem from what we are thinking which would be mostly concepts we don't think in random words. Therefore if we like to be happy we will think about things or do things that make us such. We are made to feel a wide range of emotions and they come and go. Knowing a word is not going to help someone know happiness better. Learning to control thoughts would be much more helpful. Just as a baby feels all emotions it does not yet understand them. What good would a huge vocabulary be if we could not put together concepts.

  • $\begingroup$ Any sources on this? $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ Because I disagree with a lot of what you say. :P Words help crystallize knowledge. They make it more discrete. This seems like it would aid in retrieval of emotional episodes... (i.e., the answer to the question is yes--or at least, probably). $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ I guess maybe I misunderstand what you're saying what exactly do you disagree with?I am not knocking a good vocabulary which definitely helps in a deeper understanding. Knowing the word happiness does not necessarily mean every person that knows this word has experienced happiness to the same degree vs a tribe as you put it that does not have a word for happiness. Logically each person probably has experienced a different degree of happiness no more or less then a highly educated American. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ If you don't have a word for a concept, you're much less likely to deploy that concept. So if you have the word "happy," then you're more likely to deploy the happy concept than some concept you don't have a word for. Indeed, most concepts rely on there being a word, and words are very significant in concept formation. So having the word "happy" at all makes it more likely that you'll have the happy concept--and therefore the happy emotion. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 19:15

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